Report of Legislative Proceeding regarding the Salary of a Judge of Western District in Virginia, 28 June 1848
Mr. LINCOLN said, he felt unwilling to be either unjust or ungenerous, and he wanted to understand the real case of this judicial officer. The gentleman from Virginia had stated that he had to hold eleven courts. Now, everybody knew that it was not the habit of the district judges of the United States in other States to hold anything like that number of courts; and he therefore took it for granted that this must happen under a peculiar law, which required that large number of courts to be holden every year; and these laws, he further supposed, were passed at the request of the people of that judicial district. It came, then, to this: that the people in the western district of Virginia had got eleven courts to be held among them in one year, for their own accommodation; and being thus better accommodated than their neighbors elsewhere, they wanted their judge to be a little better paid. In Illinois, there had been, until the present season, but one district court held in the year. There were now to be two. Could it be that the western district of Virginia furnished more business for a judge than the whole State of Illinois?1
1Abraham Lincoln made these remarks in the context of a debate over H.R. No. 290, introduced by Richard K. Meade on March 2, 1848, “to change the times for holding the district courts of the United States in the western district of Virginia, and for other purposes.” At issue was section three of the bill, which increased the salary of the judge from $1,600 to $2,500. Prior to Lincoln’s remarks, members of the House of Representatives objected to the salary increase and had voted to strike out the third section by a vote of 118 yeas to thirty-nine nays, with Lincoln voting yea. Meade urged the House to reconsider, asking that the bill be committed to the Committee on the Judiciary with a recommendation that the salary be set at $2,000. Meade defended the salary increase, citing the excessive labor and travel involved. Lincoln spoke in response to Meade’s contentions. The House ultimately tabled Meade’s request for reconsideration and passed the bill as amended. The Senate passed the bill with an amendment setting the salary at $2,000, which the House did not approve, leading to a committee of conference, which recommended adoption of the Senate amendment. The House tabled the committee of conference report without further action.
H.R. 290, 30th Cong. (1848); Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 877-78 (1848); U.S. House Journal. 1848. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 484, 968-69, 1203-4, 1237, 1239-40, 1267, 1283; Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1:494-95.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 878 (1848).